Indigenous students in Australia are graduating from school at nearly half the rate (41.5 per cent) of their non-Indigenous peers (81.2 per cent). Australian students' performance in maths and science has declined over the past 10 years, and Indigenous students are on average 2.5 years of schooling behind the national average in these subjects.
Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME) are working to change that, and have brought together 18 Indigenous Year 9 kids from all over the country to develop a video game that will inspire young minds to pursue pathways in science, maths, engineering, technology and innovation.
This program was made possible after AIME received a $500,000 grant from Google as part of the Google Impact Challenge. The purpose of the grant is to develop an immersive online game that sparks an interest in young Indigenous students to learn and excel in maths and science.
Not only did they receive mentoring from game designers and computer engineers from Academy of Interactive Entertainment (AIE) and Mode Games, the students also paid a visit to Google, LinkedIn and Optiver during the week-long program.
The week culminated with the kids pitching a game idea to a judging panel including Good Game's Stephanie "Hex" Bendixsen, Mode Games' Shane McCartney, Google's Leticia Lentini and Western Sydney Year 9 AIME student Jandamarra Smith.
The Second Chancers were the winning development team, with their soccer-based game pitch.
"Second Chance (a working title) is centred around a student who faces being expelled from school unless he or she agrees to manage the school's soccer team," the team explained. "Each member of the team has two bars which cannot fall below a certain level throughout the game; academic and energy."
"Energy can be replenished by food but the correct food choices must be made e.g. An energy drink will see the energy source skyrocket but will decrease rapidly, as opposed to choosing a healthier food item for sustained energy."
"We thought it was really clever — uniting the team and having the reward of playing the game. It was a game I wanted to play," said judge Stephanie "Hex" Bendixsen.
One of the winning team members, Christian from Coolum Beach, QLD, says, "You can learn a lot through games, so playing isn't a bad thing. For example, if you play Minecraft you can learn about the earth and minerals, just like for geography class. You learn from playing that game".
Games as a storytelling medium and tool for gaining representation is something that students explored. Jemma from Rockhampton, QLD, created a game concept that is "set in pre-colonial Australia and players set off on a journey and collect traditional hunting tools, such as boomerangs, but have to answer a maths or science question in order to collect the tool," she explains.
"The music in the game will also change from traditional Indigenous music at the beginning, to contemporary rap artists, such as Briggs and Mau Power. Throughout the game, the players will explore all of Australia through the avatar Koorwejie, a young Aboriginal boy."
AIME CEO and Founder Jack Manning Bancroft sees the Google Impact Challenge and Second Chance as an opportunity to inspire the next generation of Indigenous scientists, mathematicians and engineers.
"We believe in a day when Indigenous kids will march proudly alongside their peers as equals. Seeing our kids reach parity and excel in maths, science and other creative fields will help make that a reality," said Manning Bancroft.
Manning Bancroft founded AIME in 2005, when he and 25 students at the University of Sydney began mentoring 25 Indigenous high school students in Redfern.
This year AIME is connecting approximately 6000 mentees with 1800 mentors across 37 locations and in partnership with 18 Australian universities. In 2014, 76 percent of AIME's 365 Year 12 kids transitioned to university, employment or further training. This exceeds the national non-Indigenous rate of 75 percent of 18 to 25-year-olds who transitioned to employment and further training, and the national Indigenous rate of 40 percent.
The winning game is projected to release at the end of 2016.